In a letter sent today to House members to mark Sunshine Week, an annual event to promote government transparency, 11 reform groups strongly urged members of the House of Representatives to support campaign finance transparency by co-sponsoring  the DISCLOSE 2015 Act (H.R. 430), introduced by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

A letter was also sent to Senators by the reform groups urging them to co-sponsor a similar bill, the DISCLOSE Act of 2015 (S.229) introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The Senate bill has 42 co-sponsors.

The reform groups include the Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Demos, Issue One, League of Women Voters, People For the American Way, Public Citizen and the Sunlight Foundation.

According to the letter, “The DISCLOSE Act would close the gaping disclosure loopholes that are allowing outside groups to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions in federal elections. We urge you to join with the 89 Representatives already co-sponsoring the Act.”

The letter stated:

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a flood of dark money in federal elections has seriously undermined the integrity of our elections and created opportunities for influence-buying and corruption. The absence of disclosure of these secret funds is also denying American citizens information they have a right to know about who is providing the money that is being used to influence their votes.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, almost $500 million in secret contributions were spent in the last two national elections.

The letter noted:

Campaign finance disclosure laws have been consistently upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court for decades – starting with the Court’s landmark decision in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo and as recently as 2010 in the Court’s Citizens United decision.

In Buckley, the Supreme Court held that the federal campaign finance disclosure laws were constitutional because they provide “the electorate with information ‘as to where political campaign money comes from and how it is spent by the candidate’ in order to aid the voters in evaluating those who seek federal office.”

The Court in Buckley also upheld the disclosure laws on the grounds that “disclosure requirements deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity.”

The letter pointed out that “The Court in Citizens United, by an 8 to 1 vote, upheld the constitutionality of disclosure requirements for outside spending groups.” The letter noted:

Justice Kennedy wrote in Citizens United that with disclosure, “Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

According to the letter, “Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s consistent support for disclosure, opponents of the DISCLOSE Act have made fallacious constitutional arguments, rejected by the Court, to support the flow of secret money into our elections.” The letter said:

For example, in upholding the constitutionality of disclosure requirements for outside spending groups, the Court in Citizens United specifically rejected the argument by opponents that disclosure requirements can apply only to ads which contain express advocacy.  The campaign finance disclosure provisions upheld in Citizens United did not require the electioneering communications covered to contain express advocacy.

The Supreme Court also has rejected the argument that disclosure requirements are unconstitutional because of theoretical concerns about harassment.

The Court in Buckley found that disclosure would only be unconstitutional if there was “a reasonable probability” that the disclosure will subject the group “to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties.” And even in these circumstances the Court has said that if a group could show such a “reasonable probability,” the remedy would be to exempt that group from disclosure and not to strike down the disclosure requirements for all groups.

 According to the letter:

The Court has also flatly rejected the argument made by disclosure opponents that its decision in 1958 in NAACP v. Alabama is a precedent for striking down campaign finance disclosure requirements.

 The NAACP case involved an attempt by the State of Alabama to subpoena the NAACP’s membership lists at a time when the organization was fighting for civil rights and when its members were the targets of murders, violence and serious physical harassment. Under those circumstances, the Court held that the NAACP was entitled to anonymity for its members.

The Supreme Court was fully aware of its NAACP decision when it upheld campaign finance disclosure laws in its 1976 Buckley decision. In fact, the Court in Buckley noted the NAACP decision and rejected the argument that the campaign finance disclosure laws were unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court in 2003 in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission again rejected the argument that the campaign finance disclosure laws were similar to the disclosure of membership lists struck down in the NAACP case. The Court said in McConnell, “In Buckley, unlike NAACP, we found no evidence that any party had been exposed to economic reprisals or physical threats as a result of the compelled disclosures.”

The letter concluded:

Secret money in our elections breeds corruption and scandal.

We strongly urge you to support and cosponsor the DISCLOSE 2015 Act (H.R.430).

Attachments: (2 total)